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Total War: Attila PC Review

My interest in the Total War series didn’t surface until watching the BBC show Time Commanders, a piece of entertaining television that had contestants  plan out strategies to win historical battles set around the closing years of B.C and into A.D, where the Romans were the power in Europe. Now if you never saw this show, you might be lost as to why this is relevant, but the show was using the latest Total War engine, which at the time (2003) was based upon the upcoming Rome: Total War, albeit with tweaks to the engine to support different troops and more camera angles. After seeing the fun you could have with the series from this show, I jumped into it and began my strategy friendship. Now over 12 years later and plenty of Total War games under its belt, the team at Creative Assembly is ready to release the brutal Huns upon us.

It’s a dead giveaway from the title that this Total War covers the birth of Attila the Hun and his rise to power to unite the nomadic Huns and form a strong unified Hunnic empire, but this stretch also covers the events that led to the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and a step closer to The Dark Ages. As with previous games in the series, the historical period comes across well researched, and for anyone who enjoys this time in history will find playing through the game and seeing certain events unfold a pleasure.

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Of course, you can completely rewrite history, since it all depends on who you pick to begin your campaign in the year 395 AD. You can be the Huns and go about setting the continent ablaze with your ruthless unstoppable force, but you might prefer taking on the role of The Saxon and using the large barbaric war across Europe as a means to capture a weakened Britannia. Maybe you want a challenge, so taking control of the Western Roman Empire and bringing it back to its former glory is one for you – also the hardest campaign to take upon in the game. They are 10 factions to pick from, all with various types of tasks to accomplish, but the end goal, no matter who you are, is always to remain alive and control territory.

For newcomers, or fans who haven’t played an entry in this series for a long time, a prologue campaign set before the beginning of the main game offers a great tutorial for Total War: Attila. You are put in command of the Visigoths, while being shown the ins and outs of the main features to get up to speed for a full campaign. The prologue doesn’t let you go about on your own, since its use is to demonstrate features, and straying from the path causes issues with the pacing, as I found out after constructing the wrong buildings and taking ages to hire a Spy. It resulted in a lot of clicking next turn to hurry up the population increase of my state, so that I could plant a market stall to enable spies to be created.

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During the prologue, and in the main game, an advisor portrait appears in the top left offering tips and information about various aspects of the game, such as rebellions, tax help or feature explanations. This is great for reminding forgetful people or if you are someone who often overlooks each state you own, as the advisor will let you know when a settlement is in turmoil. Total War titles are complex with a lot of things going on at once, so having this guy was handy for someone like me who always forgets a city once my land has grown big. A option is in place to change how often the advisor appears, so people who get annoyed at the talking head can turn him off.

Two forms of play make up a Total War experience – the turn-based world map and the real-time battles.  Simulating these historical battlefields has always been one of the standout promotional features of the game, so of course it returns in Total War: Attila with minor tweaks and additions, meaning it’s similar as before, so as good as it has always been. Although, I’m still not into the sea battles, as it comes across messy compared to the tight, well-tuned land combat. There is a lot to checkout during a battle, such as what type of units (there is a rock-paper-scissor system in play), unit formations, morale, positioning, cover (using hillsides or forests as advantage points) and stamina.

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Moving troops around without a solid focus on a target causes them to become exhausted, which leads to them getting killed or routed easily. Generals offer morale boosts, so keeping them alive is important to hold together a unit, but if they do become routed and start fleeing, it’s not the end, as units with remaining soldiers now have the chance to buckle up their courage and return to the battlefield. I learnt this the hard way when I thought I could overrun a settlement which had a lot less soldiers than me. I had around four times the units, but their fortified entrance to the camp site means I could only get in through that door. It didn’t end well, as my army was routed, fleeing the battlefield like cowards as my units dropped like flies. In the end, battles are all about being smarter than the opposition to acquire the desired win, and in that situation I wasn’t.

A new feature to the battlefield is the inclusion of dynamic fire. This deadly wildcard can be used to set encampments and cities alight to cause property destruction, panic and morale loss for the homeowners. Intelligent leaders will find ways to trick the AI into moving their soldiers into trap points or out of ambushes – if suspicious, burn it! Taking over a defeated army’s land allows the options to burn it to the ground or take it as your own, but if you caused destruction to the property in the battle, then you’ll have to repair it to make it efficient.

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Sieges are the other tweak that is worth noting, as they work more effectively without the player being harshly punished, unlike before. You can use the following turns to weaken the city before going in to attempt to break its walls. Siege equipment needs building as you siege the city on the world map, ready to use the gear come the real-time battle. Sieges are great for finding holes in a fortified city, and if the defending party doesn’t hurry up, they will find themselves in a situation where the damage is too much to repair and the city is left in tatters ready for the assaulting army to plunder and pillage.

Most of the new additions are focused on the campaign’s world map. To incorporate the migration nature of some of the barbarian races, a horde mechanic is in place that allows an army to set up camps anywhere they can fit. In essence, this is a mobile base of operations where barbarian races can erect buildings and also recruit more troops for their armies wherever there is a horde town, instead of relying on hired mercenaries to fill in the blanks when away from home. While this might sound like a great advantage over the city-based factions, players need to be careful with the management of these pocket-sized hordes, as generals can get ideas of becoming more important than they are and cast a revolt against you if they do not agree with how you are running things.

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Plundering towns and taking over their leadership converts a horde faction to a normal state, but lose those towns and the faction reverts back to hoarding, offering a chance to retreat and reinforce. It’s certainly an interesting take on the typical city building in strategy games. In fact, one of the things Total War: Attila excels at is making each of the 10 factions feel different to command, either because of how they play, how their units work or what ownership of land they begin with when starting a new campaign.

There is an important focus on politics, with the family tree making a return to the series. Plenty of random events can change the popularity of a family figure, such as illegitimate child birth causing political havoc in the system or having a family member assassinated because they are beginning to cause you problems. Family members can have children and these grow up to be new members of the family tree. Depending how you focus on your family members, you can place them in powerful positions to gain the benefits (statistics buffs) that can change public perception of you or offer a cheaper way to gain units. Slight modifications can be made to a family member by letting them get married or letting them have special symbolised clothing to represent their importance. Get this all wrong though, and you may find yourself battling in an internal struggle as important figures battle out for the power of the faction, ultimately leading to rebellion and a civil war. The mixture of family and politics adds an extra small dynamic to the game that comes with tiny rewards if you get it all right. At times though, it can also be a dumb distraction, as some family members request stupid ideas, like wanting to have a celebration because of some dumb reason. At that point I was like “Yeah, whatever, go get yourself pissed, I’ll assassinate you later for being annoying.

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No doubt a lot of questions will be asked about the release quality of the game, and rightly so after the clutter of a mess that Total War: Rome II was at launch. I can say that I didn’t find many issues with the release build of the game – no crashes and no units getting stuck after about 30 hours with the game. AI seems better at attacking places that makes sense, and they will often get involved in trade or peace treaties. The only graphical glitch I got was when white birds flew around the map and occasionally they would streak up to the top of the world. A bizarre glitch, but doesn’t happen often enough to cry over. On the topic of presentation, the UI is better at feeding you information during battles, but outside of that, while it’s easier to navigate than previous entries, there’s still a lot of important information hidden behind various menus that could do with being easier to get to.

While that’s a great start to hear that things are fixed from before, there are still performance issues. I tried running the game on the highest settings at 1080p on an i7 2600k overclocked to 4.2GHz and a Sapphire Vapor-X 290x overclocked and I was hitting sub-par 30fps. I had to knock shadows and a few other settings down by one to get a frame rate closer to 60 and even then it can drop when things get hectic. The game graphically can seem like a modification of Total War: Rome II, as it doesn’t look that much better. What bothers me is on the map the frame rate is worse than battles, especially when the AI takes over and the game reduces to a crawl as it calculates the other factions’ movements, even freezing at times, then resurrecting back as it clocks back to your turn. It seems to be a fault of the Total War engine, as this has happened in previous games, and it still sucks when you see it freeze for 10 seconds before resuming.

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It’s a good turn around when it feels like a developer has taken the issues that people complained about at the launch of Total War: Rome II and released a product that works. It feels so damn stupid saying that, as it should always be the case, but to let people know who were hurt by that issue or passed on the last game because of all the problems that cropped up – it wasn’t always like that with the series and thankfully from my experience Total War: Attila offers a solid launch with improvements that demonstrate that Creative Assembly are trying to do right the wrongs of the past.

Total War: Attila has itself firmly set on bringing a great representation of the Total War gameplay. This is the best point to begin playing if newcomers are interested in sampling their first Total War, while fans can feel better knowing what to expect with a working title at launch. Any major changes to the game is going to require a completely overhaul to the systems to bring ground-breaking evolution to the series, as what we have here is a small step-up from Total War: Rome II with similar great battle scenarios and welcome additions to the campaign to add more individuality to the factions.

8 out of 10